Film & TV

Review: Netflix’s ‘The Black Godfather’

 

Within the first 15 minutes of watching the Netflix documentary The Black Godfather I felt some kinda way about the titular man, Clarence Avant.  I was trying to be open, suspend judgment, and really listen and learn about his life and legacy, but it proved to be a more difficult task for me than I expected.  I couldn’t help but think – this feels like some real male privilege.  A woman would never have been allowed to do this, to be this. I felt justified and validated upon hearing Mr. Avant declare, “Life is all about numbers.”  – There goes that internalized capitalism bs. –  Mr. Avant repeated this mantra throughout the course of the documentary.  However, after listening to interviews from some of the people whose lives he touched and whose careers he’s propelled over the decades, my perspective shifted.  I now understood his mantra along with some of his other declarations are a performance of black masculinity and not necessarily indicative of the man himself. Clarence Avant is a true man of his time and under that rougher, shit-talking exterior is a man who loves helping his people achieve things they never thought possible.  He wants black people to have equity, to understand their own value and demand that the industry did too, specifically in the form of cash. Yes, Clarence Avant might cuss you out, but underneath his direct (and at times harsh words) is a guy who truly cares.  Here are some things I learned about the living icon, Mr. Clarence Avant.

He is really good friends with Quincy Jones. 

There are several scenes that feature Mr. Avant and Uncle Q being interviewed together and the deep bond between them is undeniable.  Hearing them laugh, joke, and call each other’s bluff is a heartwarming glimpse into black brotherhood. 

 

He understood the power of music and mobilized his network to support politicians he believed in. 

Mr. Avant understood the role of music artists in reaching the hearts of the people.  As such, he was able to bring together all his friends to perform at concerts for political candidates.  He used this tactic for several campaigns including that of Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama; interestingly enough, he did not believe that Obama could win, but supported him nonetheless. To not have one but two former presidents sit down sit down and be interviewed for your documentary is a huge statement about the reach and character of a man. He had Obama smiling from cheek to cheek and Bill Clinton fighting back tears.

 

He is from Climax, North Carolina but moved to New Jersey as a teen. 

When Mr. Avant as 13-years-old he put rat poison in his abusive stepfather’s food.  His stepfather was warned prior to taking a fatal bite and Avant was sent to live with an aunt in Summit for his protection.  Eventually, Avant began working as a nightclub promoter at Teddy P’s lounge in Newark. This was the gig that started his ascent in the entertainment industry.

 

Everybody has a Clarence Avant story. 

From Hank Aaron to P. Diddy to Jim Brown, it seems that everyone in Black Hollywood not only has a story about how Mr. Avant either got them out of a serious bind or helped their careers skyrocket.  Interestingly enough, despite his mantra that “life is about numbers” none of them ever received a bill for Mr. Avant’s services. 

 

MJ VanDevere

MJ VanDevere is a doctoral candidate at a predominately white elite institution in the South who uses humor to combat racism, sexism, and all the other –isms that seek to diminish her greatness. She is a self-proclaimed “stand-up snob” who does not have a favorite comedian, so please don't ask unless you have several hours to spare. Some of her favorite movies include, Life, Dead Presidents, and Happy Feet. If, she could only do one thing for the rest of her life, it would definitely be laugh, and maybe write. Adulting is her greatest work in progress.

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